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27 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Goss

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st July 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd August 2012

Zoe Herriot is still a prisoner. The mysterious Company are determined to break the conditioning that has been placed upon her by the Time Lords. Her integrator, Jen, has more evidence to prove that Zoe travelled in time with that strange man called The Doctor.

Through her questions, Zoe begins to recall a journey to Earth in the past. She remembers attending the funeral of a young woman called Meg, a physicist who died in an experiment gone wrong. The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe discover that her experiments have brought forth mysterious creatures into our reality.

As Zoe struggles to recall what happened, it will soon become clear that time is running out for her as The Company are growing impatient for results.

The Uncertainty Principle is a sequel to Simon Guerrier’s play The Memory Cheats, which was itself a sequel to Echoes of Grey. Both the central characters of Zoe and Jen return and it is the continuity that makes this release particularly interesting. The Company’s efforts to break through Zoe’s memory block are ramped up further with the knowledge that her life is now at stake. What made The Memory Cheats such an interesting play seems to be lacking in this release. It seems to be more because of the story that Zoe recalls as opposed to her interaction with Jen.

The main story itself is intriguing but is missing the darkness that the previous instalment had. There is some interesting development of Zoe’s character as her logical attitude is put to the test as she unwittingly falls for a young man called Archie, a character central to the main story. To hear Zoe struggling with emotion, which is almost an alien concept to her, is interesting, but I found the story, at times, to be a little pedestrian.

Where the play is really at its best is the interrogation scenes with Jen, played once again by Wendy Padbury’s daughter Charlie Hayes. Both actors give excellent performances and Guerrier drops some very intriguing character development for Jen as we discover more about her own life.

After the distrust which was central to the previous play, we begin to see these characters find some common ground as the situation with The Company begins to intensify. The conclusion promises more from this ongoing story and it will be fascinating to see where Guerrier takes these two characters next time.

The Uncertainty Principle is a not a strong audio play but it is intriguing enough to warrant a further release in this interesting story arc for Zoe.

27 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Matt Fitton

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 31st August 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 27th August 2012

Ace and Hex have just suffered severe mental and psychical torture. Caught in one of The Doctor’s schemes they just barely survived the wrath of Elder Gods. Finally escaping into a now black coloured TARDIS they discover that they are not alone. Inside is former Forge operative Lysandra Astrides and soldier Sally Morgan. 

Both of these women have encountered The Doctor and now claim to have been travelling with him for some months. Confused and seemingly thrown together by design, all of them will have to get past their mutual distrust of one another in the search for The Doctor. By a twist of fate the travellers are separated, arriving in the past and future of one man whose story and name will pass into legend as will the name of the monster he vanquishes. Does the true story about Beowulf and Grendel have any clues to The Doctor’s whereabouts and will the missing Time Lord’s carefully laid plans fall apart at the seams?

Black and White is a story that requires prior knowledge of the last couple of years of Seventh Doctor stories. It is here that the various plot threads that have been littered throughout finally begin to come together. Through the use of flashbacks Matt Fitton does an admirable job of reminding us of all these little clues for anyone coming to this fresh. Your enjoyment of the play however will be increased with an awareness of what has gone on before. 

Black and White is a difficult story to review as a more in-depth examination would give away far too much. In keeping with Doctor Who Online’s spoiler-free policy I will not go into too much detail about what happens except to address some key points.

The Black and White TARDIS plot thread is finally given clarity which reveals some rather fascinating revelations about past adventures and the nature of the TARDIS is general. We get hints as to where this trilogy is heading and it is all strongly linked to adventures gone by. Listening to Black and White makes you want to re-listen to all of the last few Seventh Doctor plays just to see how long this whole plotline has been gestating. 

Not all the answers are given here though as I’m sure all will be fully revealed in the final play of the trilogy Gods and Monsters. Black and White certainly ramps up the excitement for that particular release.

In amongst the revelations is the story of Beowulf and the reality of the how the legend came to be. The difficulty with Black and White is to make room for the lead plot exposition but allow its other story to develop and breathe and it is a credit to Matt Fitton that it does. This story about the reality of the legend of Beowulf could easily have been an adventure in its own right, but as will become clear when you listen carefully; it is linked to the bigger plot going on. Black and White is very entertaining and moves along at a cracking pace thanks to excellent direction by Ken Bentley.

The performances from the main cast are fantastic. It is a real joy to hear Maggie O’Neill and Amy Pemberton as their characters from previous stories Project: Destiny and House of Blue Fire now interacting with our familiar TARDIS crew. Philip Olivier and Sophie Aldred work alongside these new team members really well and there is enough distrust and suspicion to keep the character dynamic always interesting. 

The supporting cast is very strong too - the highlight being Stuart Milligan as Garundel, a character who sounds like a camp and bitchy Billy Crystal. Milligan gives a very funny and memorable performance and it certainly does put a unique twist on the Beowulf legend. 

While not always perfect, Black and White is an entertaining and shocking second chapter which sets up a very promising conclusion to this already fascinating trilogy. 

22 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: James Goss

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st July 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd August 2012

Ian Chesterton once travelled with an extraordinary man. He travelled the universe far and wide and for all the amazing things he saw, he wanted nothing more but to get back home. But now the past is coming back to haunt him as Ian suddenly wakes up in The Chesterton Exhibition located within a mysterious Time Museum dedicated entirely to his past.

The Museum’s curator Pendolin is delighted to find him but he is scared. There is something lurking in the Museum and it wants them both. Whilst on the run Ian’s memories begin to fade and corrupt. Whatever is out there wants Ian’s past and it is very hungry, but can he escape this nightmare and is Pendolin to be trusted?

Ian Chesterton is about to discover just how important the past can mean to his future...

As the Fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who approaches we are incredibly lucky to still have William Russell amongst us. That he is still performing the character of Ian Chesterton after all this time is really quite extraordinary and The Time Museum is a wonderful showcase for his talents.

Presented more as a drama unlike the traditional formula of The Companion Chronicles, Russell gives a magnificent performance. His Ian, though much older, is still the same man that stepped into Totter’s Yard all those years ago.

His co-star Philip Pope who plays Pendolin proves to be an excellent foil to Ian, and Pope gives a very intriguing performance throughout.

The Time Museum is a wonderful examination of one of Doctor Who’s most celebrated and fondly thought of Companions, and continues the development that Big Finish has brought to the character in previous Companion Chronicles. 

In this story Ian Chesterton is a man searching for his identity amongst the painful confusion as his past is being eaten away. The disorientation Ian displays here is beautifully portrayed by Russell as the memories he recounts of adventures past is part of the appeal of this story. There is even a surprising little nod to the Doctor Who and the Daleks target novelisation by David Whittaker, that fans will enjoy picking up on.

This play is a wonderful celebration of the show’s past tinged with a sense of melancholy. Listening to The Time Museum reminds you just how important those early stories were in the development of the show as we know it today. Without Ian and Barbara I don’t think the show would have lasted longer than its allotted thirteen weeks. Nostalgia can sometimes be seen as being over indulgent, but here it never outstays its welcome. The kisses to the past are essential to the plot as Ian desperately tries to cling to his sense of self as he and Pendolin come under threat.

As the big anniversary looms around the corner it is certainly not too early to start celebrating and with The Time Museum, Big Finish has created a perfect birthday present to all devoted Whovians everywhere.

Quite simply this is an essential purchase.

22 August 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Jonathan Morris

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 31st July 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 22nd August 2012

Albert and Peggy Marsden are certainly a very ordinary elderly couple. Living in the North of England in the late 1980s, they go about their day to day business as political upheaval in the East threatens to spill over into Nuclear War.

Albert, following the Government issued leaflet “Protect and Survive” is busy making the preparations to their countryside home should the very worst come to pass. Peggy is expecting their grown up son to be home at any minute, but they are about to get a visit from two very different people. A girl called Ace and a boy called Hex have arrived out of the blue in a strangely white coloured Police Box. 

Taken in by the couple, Ace and Hex begin to see things are very wrong. History is not following its proper course and if that wasn’t bad enough The Doctor has gone missing. Then as the bombs begin to drop on England both companions realise The Doctor will not be there to save them this time.

One of the greatest fears of the 1980s was the potential of any nation armed with nuclear weapons to launch them towards any country it declared an enemy. Nuclear attack was the ultimate in Cold War paranoia and even now it lingers in the memories of those who grew up in that era.

Protect and Survive, the first release in the new series for The Seventh Doctor addresses these fears in an incredibly disturbing way.

Jonathan Morris has clearly drawn on many sources of inspiration for Protect and Survive. Morris uses actual advice issued by the Government to the populace in the event of a nuclear attack. This is given out in a cold and clipped British dialect by the Marsden’s radio. This object not only creates a great deal of tension, but becomes a very important plot device later in the story. This littering of historical details gives the play a disturbing feel of authenticity and for anyone who has ever watched the BBC’s thoroughly bleak Threads it will certainly conjure up many frightening memories.

The first episode is incredibly well written and does an astounding job of balancing human drama amidst the science fiction and apocalyptic elements of the plot. Sophie Aldred and Philip Olivier are absolutely brilliant throughout this story but particularly so in this episode. Without The Doctor they are the ones we turn to for familiarity in this incredibly horrifying world. We really get to see what makes Ace and Hex work so well as companions.

The rest of the cast is superb with Peggy and Albert brilliantly played by Ian Hogg and Elizabeth Bennett. Their characterisation very strongly put you in mind of the Bloggses from Raymond Briggs' heartbreaking Where the Wind Blows, quite clearly another source of inspiration for this story. As the characters of Peggy and Albert dramatically change with the development of the plot, the impact is given great gravitas by both actors’ great performances.

These stories were mostly recorded whilst Sylvester McCoy was in New Zealand filming for The Hobbit but The Doctor’s slight absence does not lessen his impact on the story. The Doctor comes in at several key moments and McCoy is of course brilliant, but this is more of a story about Ace and Hex. For all The Doctor’s scheming and planning, this time they definitely do not have him around to explain what is going on. They are left in the frightening position of having to figure it all out for themselves.

There are plot threads here which have been developing throughout the last few Seventh Doctor releases. The most intriguing is appearances of the black and white TARDIS. In McCoy’s solo he has a black TARDIS adventures and a White one whilst travelling with Ace and Hex. With a very surprise ending to this story it looks like this trilogy certainly promises to answer these questions.

Protect and Survive does somewhat lose some of its momentum as the plot verges away from the Nuclear story into one that has hints of interplanetary consequences, but it cannot be denied that this is a very strong opening to what promises to be a new dramatic trilogy for The Seventh Doctor.

21 July 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: 30th June 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 21st July 2012

The TARDIS is hit by an errant stream of zygma energy, putting the time ship into peril and sending Nyssa and Turlough into the time stream. They arrive on a desolate snow-bound wasteland where the bodies of aged and withered people are falling out of the air, littering the landscape in a sea of corpses. Amongst this graveyard there is one survivor who is barely alive. This man claims to know who Nyssa and Turlough are and that they will both play an important part in future events.

The Doctor and Tegan, meanwhile, in a desperate search to find their missing friends trace the zygma energy to the ruined countryside of Brisbane in the 51st Century. The Doctor is anxious to find his friends and get away as soon as possible, as this war torn century holds far too many horrors. Through sinister events The Doctor is captured by the cold and ruthless alien scientist Findeker and Tegan comes under the protection of the Earth Free Media, made up of journalists investigating and reporting on the wrong-doings of Earth’s Supreme Alliance.

One of the most important events in the Alliance’s history is about to take place. The Icelandic Alliance has sent a delegation to establish a new trade accord and the Supreme Alliance representative chosen to oversee this affair is the Minister of Justice, Magnus Greel. 

As Tegan and The Doctor will discover to their horror, this historic chain of events could not have come into fruition without the help of Greel’s bride to be; Nyssa of Traken.

The Butcher of Brisbane is quite simply brilliant, which makes it incredibly difficult to review...To spoil one moment of this play is to rob the listener of one of the best Fifth Doctor Big Finish stories ever made. 

Marc Platt has pulled together the tantalising nuggets of information that were littered by Robert Holmes in The Talons of Weng-Chiang and created a more than worthy prequel to that story. How Platt makes each reference work within the confines of this play is extraordinary and Big Finish must be applauded for handing this story to him. 

Bold in its execution and unafraid to address the complex, dark and even sympathetic elements of Magnus Greel - the man, this play works not only as a brilliant time travel thriller but an excellent character study.

The main cast are the best they have ever been with everyone getting an equal amount of time to take centre stage. No one in this story feels like they have no strong contribution to make including the most minor of supporting characters. Sarah Sutton must be singled out from the main cast as she delivers an incredible performance, as Nyssa shows how even a monster can induce some sympathy in others.

Angus Wright as Greel is sensational. To take over from the late and great Michael Spice is no easy feat and Wright makes the character his own by delivering a complex yet quite clearly damaged individual. He plays Greel, like all psychopaths, as a man able to exude charm whilst hiding and sometimes unleashing a dangerous and deluded edge. The Greel in the Butcher of Brisbane is a much more human monster than the ruined creature he is destined to become. Here is a bureaucrat, abusing his position with dirty tricks and slowly giving in to his own paranoia. 

Rupert Frazer is quite brilliant as the cold Sa Yy Findecker, a scientist damaged so much by his own discovery that he becomes a grim foreshadowing of the events of Weng-Chiang . 

With so much reference to the past it was inevitable that the Peking Homunculus Mr Sin would make an appearance. Lacking the visual element of the murderous doll, Big Finish has rendered Mr Sin on audio in a simple yet effective way. By focusing on the porcine component of Sin’s cyborg brain, they bring him to life through the use of a series of grunts and pig like snorts which make the character incredibly creepy and grotesque.

The story is bold in using a cyclical storyline to satisfying yet tragic effect. There is a real sense of doom and foreboding running throughout the play, made more effective given the benefit of hindsight with the familiarity of having see Talons.

For anyone worried how a future version of The Doctor would work when up against a past version of a villain who hasn’t met him yet, I’m happy to say that Marc Platt solves this in a very simple way which does not damage the story's credibility.

Technically the play is superb, as Fool Circle Productions contribute a brilliant sound design and musical score with the play's direction being expertly handled by the great Ken Bentley.

It is difficult to find anything wrong with this release except a personal disappointment towards an only fleeting mention of the infamous Filipino army at Reykjavik, but such a criticism is only a minor thing when there is so much to enjoy here.

The Butcher of Brisbane is a superb closing to this Fifth Doctor season and one of the best Big Finish audios of the year. An essential listen.

24 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st May 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th May 2012

Jamie McCrimmon is trapped. Trapped not only within a four wall cell but within several time streams and not all of them are in the right order. 

His interrogator, and at some points prisoner Moran is interested in The Doctor and his agenda towards the local alien race the Unhelt. Jamie maintains that the Unhelt are harmless and that The Doctor trusts them. But why does Jamie keep switching from prisoner to captor and why do the Unhelt seem to be the enemy he believed they weren’t?

It soon becomes clear that someone is playing a game with Jamie. But it seems that there are two more players than just the highlander and Moran. The mysterious Si is behind it all, informing The Doctor that Jamie is indeed part of a game and it is one that will guarantee his freedom, if he can put the pieces of the puzzle in the right order.

Jamie McCrimmon must now face a test not just of his own resources but of his trust in the Doctor as he may not be right this time around.

Big Finish has recently been experimenting with the format of The Companion Chronicles by releasing them as audio dramas rather than talking books. This can be seen in the recent release Binary and the same format is used here to great effect. The nature of the story allows the pace to be kept at a great momentum in the audio drama format and as a result the story never feels boring.

The Jigsaw War is an intriguing play and certainly not one for a causal listen. This story, with its jumping about in time at an almost disorientating pace, demands your attention. Part of the fun is hearing Jamie trying to figure out his escape route as we hear him in both increasingly desperate and relatively calm situations within the same room. 

Frazer Hines is superb as Jamie especially when he is on the defensive about The Doctor towards Moran. This story is again another opportunity to hear Hines’ uncanny impersonation of Patrick Troughton, this time given full credit as The Doctor and not Jamie impersonating him. When these moments come they are delightful as Hines really acts like the Second Doctor which lends it more authenticity than simply doing a heightened impression of Troughton. It is a joy to listen to.

Hine’s fellow cast member Dominic Mafham is terrific as Moran, particularly as the actor has to play the character at several points in a very disjointed timeline. These moments require many different emotional states which Dafham excels at. He makes for a wonderful straight sparring partner against the rough and ready Scot and the contrast is admirably brought to life by both Hines and Mafham.

Deep within the puzzle of the play are some very interesting questions about The Doctor that Moran raises to Jamie during their interrogations. These mostly concern the off audio Unhelt and The Doctor’s opinion of them. The Unhelt to Jamie and The Doctor are simply subjugated and oppressed by Moran’s people whereas Moran present s a plausible case that they are dangerous and his people’s methods in containing them while admittedly cruel do serve a greater purpose in keeping the peace between the races. It is suggested by Moran that The Doctor simply takes things on face value and sees only a small part of the picture without full possession of the facts. This does cause an interesting moral dilemma for Jamie but it is brushed away somewhat by the far bigger puzzle that is the main story.

When the conclusion comes it is rather abrupt and does not really leave the listener fully satisfied. However, writer Eddie Robson has been rather clever to design the story in such a way that when the story is over, a way is offered to the listener to hear the adventure in the correct chronological order of events. It is a clever twist and adds a great deal of replay value to the listener.

The Jigsaw War is an enjoyable Companion Chronicle despite some of the more intriguing ideas being swamped by the main narrative in whatever order you choose to listen to it. A recommended listen.

24 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Alan Barnes

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st May 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 24th May 2012

Derbyshire in the year 1979. The Doctor and Leela arrive in the middle of a hunt for a missing girl.

Confronted by suspicious locals and the retired though rather unhinged Colonel Spindelton, the travellers begin to discover that everyone is living in fear of an ancient legend from the time of the Romans. It tells of a great White Worm, living in the Dark Peak Gap surfacing only for the flesh of animals or children.

Since the Derbyshire countryside is rife with trails of mysterious slime and missing people, all evidence suggests that the Worm is much more than a mere legend.

The Doctor begins his investigation of the strange events but he is not the only Time Lord interested in the White Worm. This Time Lord has been waiting and planning for a long time and the Worm is essential to his schemes. The Doctor is about to confront an ancient evil and a very old nemesis. 

Trail of the White Worm is not only a love letter to Bram Stoker and the Hammer Horror influences of the Philip Hinchcliffe era, but the return of The Master to Big Finish.

It is no secret that the character was coming back and the weight of expectation to see Geoffrey Beevers return to the role opposite Tom Baker was huge. The last time these two actors met as their characters was Baker’s penultimate story The Keeper of Traken, so it is a little disappointing that this adventure is not as strong as one would hope.

Having said that when The Master is present Beevers’ performance is sublime; dripping with menace, charm and a gleefully sadistic nature. When The Doctor and The Master finally confront one another it is tantalisingly brief but promises great moments to come in the next story.

Trail of the White Worm is a standalone adventure which concludes as a direct set up for the finale of the first Fourth Doctor season. It is only towards the end of part two that we see the story setting up the next act and this rather hurts it, as, upon reflection, the story begins to feel a little rushed. This is a shame as the concept and ideas on display here are so good.

As soon as The Doctor and Leela arrive we head straight into the adventure, and the marvellously mysterious characters that are set up either have their motivations exposed quickly or are dispatched just as fast. This is more evident in the supporting characters such as the wonderfully mad Colonel Spindelton and the rather enigmatic Demesne Furze. Spindelton’s motivations are explained but his reasoning for siding with The Master seems rather fickle but then again people have done far worse things for the most selfish of excuses. Furze, a character we eventually learn is crucial not only to this story but in helping to spark the beginning of the next one comes perilously close to being merely a plot device by the end. This is in no way a reflection on the cast as everyone is on top form.

Tom Baker and Louise Jameson continue the wonderful rapport they have built throughout this season and once again prove that age and time are no barriers to them returning to these classic parts. Michael Cochrane is fantastic as the barking mad Spindelton and Rachel Stirling creates a real sense of mystery in her portrayal as Furze which elevates her character from becoming too much of a device to simply get the story going. 

Trail of the White Worm feels like it should have been a much longer and darker tale than what we have here, but despite its flaws it is still very entertaining, but you cannot escape the feeling that this story is merely a stepping stone to a much larger one.

2 May 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Barnaby Edwards 

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 2nd May 2012

It is 1926 and in Calcutta, The Doctor and his companions arrive, not to soak up the atmosphere of Imperial India, but to watch a cricket match. Things are never that simple in The Doctor’s life as they are immediately attacked by a rabid man who infects Nyssa with a virus. After the TARDIS and the urgently needed medical supplies end up on a private train, The Doctor and his companions are separated. Helped by a local archaeologist he discovers that there is more to Nyssa’s condition than meets the eye.

All roads seem to be leading deep within the jungle, to a lost land where nature, myth and evil lurk. This is the realm of the fabled Emerald Tiger.

This is the first in the third trilogy of stories featuring The Fifth Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa and Turlough. It is pleasing to know that Big Finish has a lot of faith in these releases as The Emerald Tiger is certainly one of the best plays for this TARDIS team since Heroes of Sontar.

For a start the performances from the entire cast are excellent. The main TARDIS crew, especially Peter Davison are on top form and it reminds you just why this is one of the strongest groupings in the main Big Finish range. 

Barnaby Edwards has put together a stellar supporting cast with the wonderful Cherie Lunghi leading the charge as Lady Forster. Lunghi instils in the Lady Forster, a quiet but very strong sense of dignity and resolve in the face of extreme personal danger and in dealing with the tragedy that the character has suffered. It is the strongest performance in the play and I hope that Lunghi’s services are called on again by Big Finish as she has a natural voice for audio.

Central to the story are both the roles of Professor Narayan and the highly intriguing character of Dawon played by the lovely Vineeta Rishi. It would be a horrible thing to spoil the true motivation and nature of their characters (especially Dawon) so I shall refrain from giving too much away. Both actors are very well cast and both characters are our guides into the realm of the Emerald Tiger and the dark secrets that lie within.

Neil Stacy is great as the villainous bounder Major Haggard, who, as The Doctor rightly observes is “a walking embodiment of everything that’s going to bring down the British Raj.” He is dastardly, cold and sometimes rather charming despite the awful deeds he commits. But Haggard is just small fry compared to the real villain of the piece.

Shardul Khan is a wonderful creation; a character hidden in the shadows until the conclusion, his menace is excellently conveyed by the vocal talent of Vincent Ebrahim and his performance is one of the plays many highlights.

From a technical point of view, The Emerald Tiger is brilliant as it offers an incredibly rich sound design by Howard Carter who also provides a suitably beautiful and authentic score. Barnaby Edwards and Carter have worked closely together on the Textbook Stuff audio book series and Carter brings the same quality and skill to Big Finish. Carter’s work gives the play an incredibly epic feel and does much to story the imagination during the many action sequences Edwards has put into the story. 

Edwards had littered The Emerald Tiger with many references to the colonial literature of India under British rule and anything pulp related. There are strong echoes of The Jungle Book, King Solomon’s Mines and even a charming nod to Tarzan. Characters have names such as Forster and Burroughs which are of course all linked strongly to the jungle tale theme. Listeners who are familiar with their literature will enjoy spotting the references whilst being swept along by the story.

The Emerald Tiger is an adventure story steeped in the mythology and magic one associates with India particularly of that period. For the first three parts of the play the pace is kept very high; even expositional conversations feel exciting and there are many classic action set pieces used throughout. From a car crash to a fight for survival on a train, there really is never a fully dull moment in this play.

The only sad thing is that a little of the momentum of the first three parts is lost near the conclusion of the fourth. The play seems to wrap itself up a little too quickly and there is a slight lack of an emotional pay off. This IS merely a minor niggle from me as there is so much to enjoy here.

The Emerald Tiger is a highly enjoyable play and an incredibly strong start in a new trilogy from one of Big Finish’s finest Writer / Directors.

26 April 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Richard Dinnick

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th April 2012

The TARDIS arrives in Siberia near the end of the 19th century as shooting star has falls from the sky. Its arrival heralds a strange illness that effects not only the local population but the Doctor and his granddaughter Susan. The object from the stars brings not only sickness but knowledge so powerful it would be catastrophic in the wrong hands.

With time running out Ian Chesterton must rely on the help of a mysterious wanderer Grigory, a man who believes God has granted him the gift to heal those in need. The stakes are high for Ian as the alien object offers not only answers to save The Doctor but the chance he and Barbara have been waiting for: a way home.

The Wanderer is an interesting Companion Chronicle as it not only a rather good story but a lovely exploration of what it is to be a wanderer who wishes to go home.

The strongest part of this release is the great William Russell, a man with a real gift for narration and character. Whenever I hear a new Ian Chesteron Companion Chronicle I always imagine sitting by the fire with a drink, listening to Ian recount his adventures, such is the quiet brilliance of Russell’s performances. They are special as he is one of the old guard; the original TARDIS team and just listening to him you‘re instantly transported back to that golden era in 1963.

It is not so much a spoiler to reveal Grigory’s true identity as writer, Richard Dinnick piles the clues up to such a degree it would be foolish not to guess this wanderer is the infamous “Mad Monk” Rasputin. In an odd way The Wanderer acts as a sort of origin story for Rasputin, playing with the legend of the man’s supposedly mystical healing powers and gifts of prophecy. Tim Chipping is excellent in the role of Grigory, adding a more troubled and human element to this most vilified of historical figures.

The rest of the story which deals with the alien race responsible for the alien object and the resolution of Rasputin's story are interesting but what really captures your attention is the insight into Ian Chesterton. He is a man who, despite being fascinated by his adventures with The Doctor, is absolutely determined to get home. It is a striking reminder that in recent years, The Doctor’s companions have been so up for adventure it is easy to forget that Ian and Barbara ended up in the TARDIS by accident. They didn’t ask to be wanderers in the fourth dimension; they do not want to be facing death every other day. He wants to be at home, with the familiar and the comforting, such as a pint of beer at the pub or listening to the Test Match Special. Much is made that Ian has Barbara with him, a friendship and someone he loves and values very deeply. Barbara is someone Ian can relate to as they are in this situation together and the outcome at this time is unknown.

Of course we all know that Ian and Barbara will get home but it is fascinating to explore the hope, disappointment and sheer determination that Ian has to get back to his old life.

The Wanderer is an absorbing tale in which, despite its good story and guest star, is more interesting when it focuses on Ian himself.

That said any Companion Chronicle in which William Russell is involved is more than worth your time.

26 April 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Nicholas Briggs

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 30th April 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 26th April 2012

The Doctor and Leela return to Earth in the year 2025. The planet is suffering a severe energy crisis and the GlobeSphere Corporation is about to test a solution. With a giant satellite dish at the top of the National Gallery in London, head of GlobeSphere and radical thinker Damien Stephens' plans save humanity. But talk of backroom deals and corruption has brought thousands of protestors to Trafalgar Square lead by Stephen’s former colleague Jack Coulson. But something is very wrong. 

Before landing, The Doctor detected a mysterious energy signal and the crowds are being dispersed and arrested by armed GlopeSphere employees. It isn’t long before the Doctor and Leela are separated and with Coulson’s help the Time Lord begins to put the pieces of the puzzle together. 

Has Damien Stephens not just sold out on his beliefs but humanity as well? The source of the energy signal will bring The Doctor face to face once again with his deadliest enemy.

We all know that this is the one we have been waiting for. The Fourth Doctor is back against the Daleks in this fun adventure from Dalek supreme Nicholas Briggs.

The Fourth Doctor’s encounters with The Daleks on television were rather odd affairs, as Genesis of the Daleks and Destiny of the Daleks were very much centred on Davros. Briggs has chosen wisely to tell a very traditional Dalek story, using the nostalgic elements of the Dalek stories we love, such as including the Robomen, the main antagonist under their control. Even their ultimate plan brings The Dalek Invasion of Earth strongly to mind. While some may think of this as heavy borrowing, I would argue that as a piece of nostalgia, Energy of the Daleks hits all the right notes.

For a two parter, the plot moves at a breckneck pace and there is enough going on and satisfactory resolution to the story that it never feels rushed.

Do the Daleks fare well in this story?  Nicholas Briggs has always been one of the best writers for Daleks but here some avid listeners of Big Finish may feel he has taken a bit of a step back. Big Finish has done much to evolve The Daleks as characters in their previous audio adventures, including Briggs' own Dalek Empire series.

There are times when a Dalek should simply be a Dalek, a squawking, scheming tin can of cybernetic nastiness and this is the direction Briggs has chosen to take. It is a lot of fun to hear them get angry when The Doctor outsmarts them and is enough to tickle the most cynical bone of any fan.

This was the first audio Tom Baker recorded for Big Finish and there are moments when you can tell he is searching for the character again, finding the balance between the humour and drama. But this in no way damages his performance as he is still very much The Fourth Doctor.

Louise Jameson is simply excellent as Leela and due to her strong performance you can easily believe Leela would possess a powerful enough mind to resist a Dalek Mind probe. What has been so impressive throughout these adventures so far is Big Finish’s keenness to right some of the sexist wrongs imposed on past companions, such as Leela preferring trainers over high heels. It is a simple moment but creates a very strong image.

The supporting cast is excellent even if some of the characters don’t get much room to develop. By far the strongest are Damien Stephen’s and Jack Coulson, played very well by Alex Rowe and Mark Benton.

Lydia Harding and Dan Starkey do well with what they have but the running time obviously does not allow much depth for their characters to be explored.

Despite some weaknesses, Energy of the Daleks is a highly fun romp, made more special by seeing The Fourth Doctor once again clash with his greatest enemy. 

30 March 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: William Gallagher

RRP: £14.99

Release Date: 31st March 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th March 2012

In the year 16127, the once devastated and abandoned planet Earth is slowly being repopulated forty years after the colonists of Nerva Beacon returned. Those who have been chosen for the program find living conditions are from tough to the extreme. Transmat scientist Roger Buchman, his wife Veronica and daughter Toasty arrive at one of the new settlements on an island surrounded by the frozen waters of what was once called Loch Lomond.

The island is empty and the other crew members are nowhere to be found. As if that is not enough trouble to deal with, two complete strangers beam in from Nerva city, calling themselves Flip and The Doctor. It isn’t long before the horrific fate of the crew is discovered and The Doctor realizes an old enemy is lurking, hidden under the ice waiting to emerge and feed. But what do the Wirrn want other than hosts for their eggs? Who is the mysterious voice that taunts Flip over the two way radio and just what connection does it have to the Buchman family’s tragic past?

The Wirrn have always been a fascinatingly gruesome foe for The Doctor, and in Wirrn Isle (their second appearance in a Big Finish audio since the superb Wirrn Dawn), we get to see how the absorption of their host’s memories and personality can cause heartbreak and devastation on a galactic scale. The Wirrn were a strikingly visual creature on television, so it is up to the excellent sound design of Simon Robinson to bring every sinister chirp they make to life, creating a instant feeling of dread once they are heard.

The majority of The Wirrn swarm are used sparingly in the play, allowing the scenes in which the character of Iron appears, to have more of an emotional punch producing some genuinely chilling moments, such as the scene where he stalks Flip out on the ice over the radio. It is incredibly creepy and memorable scene.

Colin Baker is of course on top form as The Doctor, playing not only the scientific expert but a mediator between the warring factions of the Buchman family. The Doctor knows the terrible danger that he and the others are in and his struggle to keep them all together in the face of the ever growing danger is riveting to listen to. It is lovely to hear how The Doctor is becoming almost like a worried parent towards Flip and this is really rather touching. The Sixth Doctor has been lucky that Big Finish has provided him with such distinctive and likeable companions and in this trilogy he has struck gold again.

The wonderful Lisa Greenwood utterly shines as Flip, a character I personally am becoming fonder of the more I hear of her. Greenwood’s strong, funny and sweet natured performance has been one of the highlights of this series of plays. The scene in which she lies, broken and battered after a flight in a mini airplane while her blood has frozen her to the ice as The Wirrn begin to emerge is a truly nerve shredding moment and Greenwood sells every moment of it.

What is great about Flip is summed up by The Doctor himself in that he is not sure whether she is incredibly brave or foolhardy. The attention devoted to this idea makes one wonder whether this will be revisited in future stories with Flip of which I hope there will be many more of.

It is a shame when Flip ends up on Nerva City out of the main action, but this is necessary given the extremity of the family drama that plays out around The Doctor. He has enough trouble playing the science fiction equivalent of Jeremy Kyle as he struggles to keep the family together in the midst of coming galactic doom.

The rest of the cast perform very well in their roles particularly Jenny Funnell and Tim Bentinck who play Veronica and Roger. Funnell excels in a role which requires a lot of deep emotional turmoil, in regards to the loss of her son and her anger at everyone, including The Doctor if they so much as lead her on with false hope of any kind.

Some of the supporting characters, including the frankly ridiculously named Toasty, do not come off as well as the main players. I do not think this is a fault of the writing, but they seem to just not have as interesting a dynamic as that between The Doctor, Flip and Veronica and Roger.

I get the feeling that when Wirrn Isle expands the threat to a universal level it loses some of the intense, under siege threat that runs so strongly in the first two episodes. It doesn’t diminish the play at all, but the marvellous sense of claustrophobia is taken away.

Also if you are a lover of transmat action then this is the play for you as the latter half of the story seems to be utterly devoted to it. Although the presence of it adds much to the threat posed by The Wirrn, the story at times ends up being like a game of musical chairs, as one person or Wirrn is transported here there and everywhere for the latter half of the story.

Wirrn Isle is a very good play; a powerful family drama set amongst a horrific science fiction setting that, despite losing some of its momentum towards the end, has enough strong ideas and excellent moments to linger in the memory.

30 March 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: John Dorney

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 31st March 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th March 2012

The Doctor has taken his companion Leela to ancient Norfolk to learn about her ancestors but they get a little closer than they hoped. Caught in the middle of a battle between Roman centurions and tribal warriors, the travellers unexpectedly become guests of the legendary warrior queen Boudica.

After hearing of the tragic circumstances which have led to her fight against the Romans, Leela is keen for The Doctor to help Boudica and her tribe, The Iceni overthrow the invaders. The Doctor however is anxious to move on, as incredibly significant events in Boudica’s history are drawing closer and any further interference from him could cause irreparable damage to not only the future of the world but perhaps also a very dear friendship.

After some of the more traditional monsters and corridors stories it is lovely to see The Fourth Doctor and Leela in a purely historical drama. In a way The Doctor actually takes a step back from most of the precedings as this is quite clearly a story about Leela.

A warrior of the Sevateem meeting the most fearsome warrior Queen in history is simply too good an opportunity to pass up and, in the hands of the very skilled John Dorney, the results are fantastic.

It is extraordinary how quickly Leela does fall under Boudica’s spell, but this seems to be very much a consequence of her conflict with The Doctor. Until now she has always believed The Doctor was a force for good, righting the wrongs, defeating the invaders and freeing the subjugated. Now her mentor has challenged this with his desire to leave the Iceni to their fate, all for the sake of preserving the course of unfolding history. But why does The Doctor feel he has the right to decide who is saved and who must die? Through Leela, the ethical and moral choices of The Doctor’s actions come into question and to see Leela replace The Doctor with Boudica as a mentor more on the level of her warrior upbringing is both understandable and believable.

It is a credit to Louise Jameson’s strong and convincing performance that we see Leela’s struggle as she discovers her new Queen to be cruel and heartless in the pursuit of her revenge. One scene in particular when Leela observes Boudica killing innocent and defenceless people stirs the two women into a one on one fight to the death; a scenario that Dorney must have enjoyed writing immensely as it is one of the highlights of the audio.

Following up on the strength of Jameson’s performance is undoubtedly Ella Kenion as Boudica. Her portrayal is electrifying; all at once noble, fierce, cold and monstrous. This is clearly a woman who has dedicated her sole purpose to the extinction of the Roman occupation of her country and anyone who gets in her way will be trampled under horse or run through with her blade.

The Doctor gets to enjoy some lovely scenes with the Iceni cook Bragnar, played by the lovely Nia Roberts. This provides Tom Baker with some nice moments for comedy but Bragnar is given some interesting depth in a subplot in which she overhears The Doctor relate to Leela the tragic fate of the Iceni prompting her decision to flee rather than die a wasteful death.

Supporting players Michael Rouse and Daniel Hawksford are very good in their rather small roles but give enough to elevate their parts from simply being devices to steer the plot forward.

The cast is surprisingly small considering the scale and ambition of the play. The sound design of Richard Fox and Lauren Yason is to be applauded, for bringing the battle scenes to vivid life and for providing an excellent score.

The Wrath of the Iceni is a highly enjoyable play and an excellent character piece, and proof that Big Finish can create a thoughtful and convincing historical adventure story - let us hope that they do more of them.

30 March 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Eddie Robson

RRP: £8.99

Release Date: 31st March 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 30th March 2012

UNIT have recovered a damaged Alien computer, and for once they do not require The Doctor’s help. Preferring to keep their scientific advisor in the dark, they call in Dr Elizabeth Shaw, to oversee the repair of this alien technology. All is not what it seems however as the soldiers who had been guarding the computer have vanished without a trace.

To help her in the repairs UNIT have sent to Liz a computer expert by the name of Sergeant Andrew Childs. As repairs begin it is not long before Liz and Sergeant Childs find themselves inside the computer.

Trapped and desperate to escape, Liz and Childs begin to traverse the inner workings of the computer. But why are they finding the vanished soldiers dead and just what is stalking them through the mainframe? The Doctor is not around to save the day this time, so Liz must find her own way out but can the increasingly evasive Childs be trusted?

Liz Shaw, one of the shortest lived companions in the history of Doctor Who, but despite this has made a rather strong impact in the hearts of many fans. So it seems only fitting that Big Finish are determined to give this Companion the life she should have had on screen and have pulled out this rather fun and thoughtful Companion Chronicle.

What is at first striking about Binary is the decision to make this release a full cast audio drama rather than a talking book. This is rare for the Companion Chronicles, one of the last releases to get this treatment was the superb Solitaire, but the effect really helps this story as it is nice to hear Caroline John reacting to another actor instead of creating the parts herself.

The story of Binary is a good one. It is not brilliant or particularly striking but it is entertaining. The concept of being trapped in a computer is not a new one, but there is enough ideas running throughout the story to help it elevate past more than a mere run around story. One of most interesting parts of Binary is the idea of a computer producing an organic life form to fix faults within it. Although this does generate a stereotypical foe to chase Liz around a corridor, the concept is so highly original you can forgive the short comings of its ultimate execution.

The cast all work well together, particularly Caroline John. John portrays Liz as a woman struggling to make something of herself in a man’s world, and her bitterness towards the sexism and the patronising attitude of The Doctor (who appears in this story thanks to messages on a screen) really add depth to Liz’s character.

Joe Coen as Seargent Childs is excellent in the role and although the revelation of the true nature of his character is at times rather obvious. Coen, though, brings enough charm and subtle manipulation to the part to make any listener second guess his character’s motives.

The full cast play format is an excellent device for the Companion Chronicles as a series and I for one would like to see Big Finish exploring the possibilities of this direction with future releases in the range.

Binary is an entertaining and intriguing addition to the Companion Chronicles, with some very good performances and for anyone jumping on board is a lovely introduction to a sadly short lived TV companion.

29 February 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Justin Richards

RRP: £10.99

Release Date: 29th February 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 29th February 2012

Knowledge is power. To know everything, every piece of knowledge that has ever existed is the desire of many but at what cost? Is knowledge detrimental to learning and understanding? You can list species of butterfly but do you know that they are beautiful?

This is the question that runs through the heart of this really enjoyable adventure for The Fourth Doctor.

The Doctor is determined to continue Leela’s education and decides that a trip to the universally famous Morovanian Museum is just what she needs. Upon arrival, things don’t go according to plan. First of all, why are they in an English village and just why are people dying around them, driven mad by the loss of something great?

The Doctor quickly begins to deduce that the mysterious Reginald Harcourt, resident of the local manor maybe the cause of the sinister goings on. Harcourt is the owner of The Collection, a place where everything, all knowledge and artefacts from everywhere are present. But as the Doctor points out, it is not fully complete and there is someone who will do just about anything to achieve its completion. Someone more than prepared to kill.

After the slightly underwhelming Destination: Nerva, The Renaissance Man is a much stronger entry in the new Fourth Doctor range.

Justin Richards' script is witty and clever. He captures the character of The Fourth Doctor and Leela very well, setting up the Pygmalion relationship that Big Finish is exploring with this series of adventures. Louise Jameson’s performance is very strong in this story despite the overuse of Leela’s mispronunciation of words, such as her repeated use of “runny science” for renaissance. Although Leela came from a primitive culture she is certainly not stupid. This however is a minor criticism of a well written and delivered portrayal. In fact, the relationship between The Doctor and Leela is much improved from that of their television appearances and this is definitely down to the way they are written. I hope that Big Finish continue to build upon this, as it is fast becoming one of my favourite Doctor and companion partnerships.

The supporting cast is good, particularly Laura Molyneaux in the dual role of Beryl and Professor Hilda Lutterthwaite but they are somewhat over-shadowed by guest star Ian McNeice as Harcourt. An intriguing villain, played excellently by the actor, especially when he and Baker get a verbal sparring, providing one of the highlights of the audio.

This brings us to the great man himself, Tom Baker. It has been a pleasure to listen to him return to the role of The Doctor, and he gives a brilliant performance here. In Destination: Nerva, The Doctor had to rely on luck and his wits, but here we see him relying on his keen intelligence, working things out way ahead of everyone else. He plays the fool and pulls the wool over everyone’s eyes before playing the detective with a great Christie-style revelation at the stories conclusion. Baker is witty, charming and brings out The Fourth Doctor’s moral centre beautifully, and the play is well worth your time based on his performance alone.

The main theme running through the story of knowledge versus experience is well realized. The darkest moment of the play, involving a character losing the knowledge which defines her, leading to a gruesome outcome, is rather powerful. This theme is explored very well and only seems to jar in the somewhat weaker epilogue.

Everything about The Renaissance Man is quintessential Doctor Who. It contains great ideas, two excellent lead performances and an intriguing story.

A highly recommended listen.

29 January 2012

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Simon Guerrier

RRP: £12.99

Release Date: 31st January 2012

Reviewed by: Matthew Davis for Doctor Who Online

Review Posted: 29th January 2012

Whilst being pursued by the Daleks across time during the events of The Daleks Masterplan, Steven Taylor and Sara Kingdom have found a small moment to relax but as they know, travelling with the Doctor means it will not last long. 

Whilst in the vortex, an experimental time ship crashes into the TARDIS, ripping the time capsule apart. The Doctor and his companions, along with the crew of the other ship awake on a desert island, the TARDIS nowhere to be seen. The occupants of the ship are human pioneers, the first of their kind to travel in time. It isn’t long before mutual distrust begins to build with Steven and Sara caught in the middle.

Time then begins to run out for both of them as they then find themselves on the other side of the Berlin Wall in 1966. Why are they there and will they have to betray the Doctor to escape? Whatever they decide, they are certainly not alone as something is stalking them both; a legend of the Doctor’s home world, and one that may be all too real.

The Anachronauts is the first Companion Chronicle release this year and Big Finish seem to be celebrating as this is a special two disc release. The narrative structure Simon Guerrier has chosen for this story justifies the need for a double release as it is told between Steven and Sara, alternating narration duties over the four episodes. 

Guerrier’s script is intricate and full of many twists and turns. He is incredibly clever at littering clues to the outcome of the story which will reward repeated listens. However this complex intricacy can hamper some of the themes he touches upon. One theme in particular is the idea of Steven and Sara betraying the Doctor and what he believes in to keep themselves both alive. This is not explored as much as you would like it to be, as there is so much going on, it simply serves to work towards the twist in the play’s conclusion.

Overall, the story feels a bit drawn out; this is due partially to the major change of location at the beginning of episode three. Whilst the adventure does go off in a new direction, the effect is rather jarring at first and seems to render the first two parts redundant. 

The strongest element of this story is the relationship between Steven and Sara, which is explored from each of their point of view. We get a fascinating insight into how these two characters have a growing respect and closeness which would never really been touched upon in the television series. This is the great strength of The Anachronauts, and the performances of Peter Purves and Jean Marsh bring it to life.

Both actors work wonderfully together, and Purves' impersonation of the first Doctor, William Hartnell is still a great joy to listen to. It is incredible just how vivid his characterisation is, successfully creates the illusion of a third actor being amongst the cast.

The Anachronauts is an interesting Companion Chronicle, with two very strong central performances, but despite a story that gets a little lost in its own intricacy, it is certainly worth a listen.

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